Gloria Fuertes Essay - Critical Essays

Fuertes, Gloria


Gloria Fuertes 1918–

Spanish poet and children's writer.

One of the poets that emerged in post-Civil War Spain, Fuertes has made a valuable contribution to twentieth-century Spanish poetry. Through her highly personal verse as well as her popular children's poetry, she has become an appreciated figure in Spanish culture. She has garnered attention for her unwavering commitment to social issues, and the promotion of peace, world harmony, and human understanding are considered defining characteristics of her work.

Biographical Information

Born in 1918 in Madrid, Spain, Fuertes was born to working-class parents and educated at a trade school for women. A teenager during the Spanish Civil War, her wartime experiences imbued her with an appreciation for peace, a recurring theme in her work. In 1939 she was hired as an editor by a publishing house and became a contributing writer for the children's magazines Pelayo and Maravilla. She also began to write poetry during this time, and published her first collection of verse, Isla ignorada, in 1950. She wrote both children's verse and poetry in subsequent years. In 1955 she began to study library science, and five years later started her career as a librarian. The publication of Que estás en la tierra—an anthology of her previously published poetry—garnered critical and commercial attention. In 1961 she received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach Spanish at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. She has been a popular figure in her homeland because of her frequent appearances on children's television and her successful poetry readings.

Major Works

Fuertes's first collection of verse, Isla ignorada, draws from nature imagery and contains highly personal material. Both Antología y poemas del suburbio and Todo asusta evince characteristics of Fuertes's later work: autobiographical subject matter, use of free verse and conversational language, and the incorporation of themes such as social justice, religion, family, and human suffering. Death and life are the major concerns of Aconsejo beber hilo, and the collection explores Fuertes's existential philosophy. Her humor and imagination are displayed in Poetu de guardia, and the poems touch on topical themes of the time, including the Vietnam War and other world events. Her best-known collection, Historia de Gloria, consists of poems taken from her own personal diary. Reflecting on her childhood and her adult life, Fuertes once again celebrates life, love, peace, and the power of poetry to address social injustice.

Critical Reception

Fuertes's verse has been viewed by critics as testimonial poetry, characterized by its personal subject matter and confessional approach. Stylistically, commentators deem her use of colloquial language and a humorous tone as effective devices to explore the absurdity of human existence. Her poems often investigate death, alienation, human suffering, and suicide. Injustice and war are a special concern for her, and commentators assert that her sensitivity to the poor, women, and the exploited are defining characteristics of her work. In fact, critics praise her devotion to social issues and attempt to place her within the context of the social poetry that emerged from post-Civil War Spain.

Principal Works


Isla ignorada 1950

Antología y poemas del suburbio 1954

Todo asusta 1958

Que estás en la tierra 1962

Ni tiro, ni veneno, ni navaja 1966

Poeta de guardia 1966

Cómo atar los bigotes al tigre 1969

Antología poètica (1950-1969) 1970

Cuando amas aprendes geografía 1973

Sola en la sala 1973

Obras incompletas 1975

Historia de Gloria 1980

Off the Map: Selected Poems 1984

Mujer de verso en pecho 1995

Pecábamos como ángeles: gloripoemas de amor 1997

Other Major Works

Canguara para todo (juvenile) 1967


Timothy J. Rogers (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "The Comic Spirit in the Poetry of Gloria Fuertes," in Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 7, 1981, pp. 88-97.

[Rogers discusses ways in which Fuertes deals with social issues in her work through the use of comedie elements.]

If there is a tenor which seems to run as a pervasive undercurrent to contemporary Spanish poetry, especially since the Civil War, it probably can be summarized as man's existential dilemma vis-à-vis what Camus hailed as the absurdity of life.1 Indeed, perhaps instead of calling modern man's plight the "tragic sense of life" one might rightfully proclaim it as the "comic sense of life." Wylie Sypher in his essay, "The Meanings of Comedy," observes:

… since ours is a century of disorder and irrationalism, is it any wonder that along with our wars, our machines and our neuroses we should find new meaning in comedy or that comedy should represent our plight better than tragedy? For tragedy needs the "noble" and nowadays we seldom can assign any usable meaning to "nobility." The comic now is more relevant, or at least more accessible than the tragic.2

In light of Sypher's cogent statement, I would like to draw our attention to one of Spain's contemporary though lesser known poets, Gloria Fuertes (1918- ),3 and examine in an overview just how her poetry may well serve as a reflection of this "comic" spirit, not only for the humor that one may perceive in it from time to time, but also as a statement of the poet's attempt to confront and in some way diminish the seeming disparity, improbability, and absurdity of life. The comic voice of Gloria Fuertes, as we shall note, at times derives from this basic underlying spirit, and more often than not, becomes its very poetic expression. While it may serve to mask the absurdities of the human condition, it does at the same time become one of the effective techniques by which the poet manages to cope with her own sense of the comic.

It has been well noted by a number of critics that the poetry of Gloria Fuertes is, by and large, steeped in social consciousness and that her verses echo the concerns relative to the human condition similarly raised by her contemporaries of "la poesía comprometida." As Joaquín González Muela has observed, Gloria Fuertes' poetry may very well be summarized as "Soledad, sufrimiento, tristeza, incomprensión, contradicción … éstas son las tintas filosóficas con que escribe este poeta 'jocoso.'"4 Her poetic language, at the same time, is direct, blunt, unobtrusive, unrhetorical, for the most part, and as José Luis Cano has noted, patently prosaic.5 Nonetheless, as pertinent as these observations may be, it is in my opinion the manner in which Fuertes expresses those "tintas filosóficas," i.e., how her technique involves us as readers in her comic sense of life, which, in the end, gives her poetry its singular hallmark. Antithesis, ironic twists, unexpected and startling irrational resolutions which border on the absurd abound through a good number of her poems and thoroughly permeate them.

I believe we can see this poetic technique quite readily in her poem "Aviso a los gobernantes del mundo":

What intrigues us from the very opening verses of the poem is the pretentious but welcome naive poetic voice calling attention to the world leaders of a local problem—the peste—now somewhat rampant in its barrio. The very image of the peste suggests plague, a pestilence, and calls to mind what Wheelwright has identified as "tensive language"7 whereby through the literal interpretation of the sign we are caught envisioning a physical disease while in the following verse we discover that it is in fact a social, economic, and political disease. The beggars in the ensuing verses seek only refuge, warmth, and the fulfillment of their needs, not the least of which is the attainment of human understanding. Rejected by the local alcalde they are ready to rise up not only against him but also against all authority. The curious allusion to the "tumba" of the world leaders causes a shifting in our expectations, for now we discover that they are dead and hence we are left with a conceptual interplay of words and ideas. On the rational level we expected an exhortative address to living leaders but in fact we must now entertain the "irrational conceit" (as Carlos Bousoño would suggest) insofar as the moribund state of the leaders is concerned. This conceit, undoubtedly fully intended by the poet, accures a sense of irony since the concept of dead world leaders certainly plays off the idea of contemporary leaders as being quite "dead" to the needs and the plight of the beggars, and on a larger scale to all the destitute and the unwanted.

Irony is carried even further when the poetic voice asserts that the beggars driven by the circumstances of their situation are indeed going to rise up and visit the leaders' tomb but surprisingly and unexpectedly not to raise havoc but to place "flores." This tongue-in-cheek humor unsettles us because the paradoxical nature of a revolution borne by flower-bearing militant beggars is, at least at first glance, the last thing we would have expected. Fuertes further sustains the parodic humor of the image by the intrusion of the poetic voice as a self-proclaimed "pacifista." The mock seriousness is embellished and enhanced by the voice's declared sense of moral responsibility to forewarn the "Ilustrísimas" of such dire and audacious action on the part of the peste even though the voice is fully in accord with the justice of its cause, and slyly forces us again to recognize the pseudo-gravity of the action, i.e., the placing of flowers on their tomb.

In the second strophe, the poetic voice reiterating the urgency of the situation calls the leaders' attention through the ensuing series of anaphoral enjoinders to the fact that all the rules, regulations, prohibitions, and bans against the beggars really have no fruitful value. Indeed, the resolution is quite simple if one were to consider it with reasonable cogency. Rather than promulgate unnecessary and perhaps unenforceable laws, why not simply exterminate the root and cause of the problem? Why not simply eradicate the beggars? "es mejor que suspendan los mendigos." The absurdity of the resolution of the social problem is, of course, what makes us susceptible to the wry smile that crosses our face. It's only a joke and we are relieved—but only momentarily. The absurdity forces us to reflect upon the poem for its more serious tone and inescapable theme. And in doing so, we are stripped of our self-assured smugness and we are thrust into the sensation of what Pirandello has called the "feeling or sensing of the opposite"8 in the seriousness and the pathos of the apparent comic situation.

Certainly, the horror of Spain's destitute as reflected in Gloria Fuertes' sensitivity toward poverty, solitude, and injustice rings out clearly in the brief poem "Ficha Ingreso Hospital General" wherein she at first disorients us as she constructs the poem in the manner of a threeby-five notecard and in clinically precise but insouciant statements describes the pathos of human life:

Nombre: Antonio Martin Cruz.
Domicilio: Vivía en una alcantarilla.
Profesión: Obrero sin trabajo.
OBSERVACIONES: Le encontraron moribundo.
Padecía: Hambre.
(OI, 135)

The poem surprises us since at first glance it appears to be a humorous and disinterested anecdote, but actually turns out to be a very serious indictment against social injustice on the one hand, and on the other, a restatement of the pathetic plight of man's existentialist displacement. The sum total of a man's life is reduced to the dehumanization of a cryptic notation on a hospital file card. One is not very far removed from the plaintive cries of Fuertes' contemporary, Bias de Otero, who vented his anger against social injustices by shouting out against God and country while inwardly he wept for the barefoot impoverished child (as Gabriela Mistral had done in Chile) and moaned the haplessness of the peasant servant girls forever destined to poverty and petrified in their "sayitas deshilachadas."

At other times the comic spirit of Gloria Fuertes, seen through the intermixing of the absurd with the rational, startles us even more when the poetic voice purports to proffer sentiments of metaphysical proportions. The poet hides behind the mask of dissimulation whereby the comic spirit is again steeped in pathos and we as readers are once more required to respond to a higher meaning of her poetry. In the poem, "A veces me sucede," a poignant statement of the loneliness of man confronted by the reality of his essence is enmeshed in the almost imponderable depths of spiritual malaise:

A veces me sucede que no me pasa nada,
ni sangre ni saliva se mueve en mis canutos;
la mente se me para y el beso se me enquista
y a siglos con pelusa me saben los minutos.
El río es un idiota, un terrible obediente,
el mar sigue Ilamándole como a can hechizado
el mal esclavo húmedo, se arrastra por los suelos;
—ya se me están quedando los pies fríos—
¡ Qué voz triste el trapero! ¿ qué tiene por su saco?
El día se despeina, la Rufa esta preñada,
la vaca de Pedrito me sigue haciendo señas,
a veces me sucede que no pasa nada …
(OI, 93)

The opening four lines set the tone and theme of the poem. Life, spiritual and physical, has...

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Margaret H. Persin (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "Gloria Fuertes and (Her) Feminist Reader," in Revista/Review Interamericana, Vol. XII, No. 1, Spring, 1982, pp. 125-32.

[Persin assesses ways in which Fuertes develops her ideas about the burdenand resulting isolationimposed upon women by contemporary attitudes toward behavior, relationships, distribution of wealth, and conformity.]

Critics have just begun to recognize the value of the post-Civil War poets who became active in Spain in the late 1950s and 1960s.1 Gloria Fuertes's poetry is linked to that of her contemporaries not so much by a given theme or style as a common attitude: all of these poets stress the value of poetry...

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Andrew P. Debicki (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "Gloria Fuertes, Intertextuality and Reversal of Expectations," in Poetry of Discovery, 1982, pp. 80-101, 222-23.

[Debicki assesses Fuertes' use of various devices in her poetry to unify disparate elements into fresh presentations of her ideas.]

The poetry of Gloria Fuertes is marked by its colloquial tone and its resemblance to conversational address. Her works are filled with references to everyday objects and events: buses, storefronts, newspaper advertisements; any more significant themes emerge from these. Almost all her poems are written in free verse, a verse that seems to deliberately avoid rhythmic regularity and consistently break the conventions of...

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Sylvia R. Sherno (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Gloria Fuertes and the Poetics of Solitude," in Anales de la literatura espanola contemporanea / Annals of Contemporary Spanish Literature, Vol. 12, No., 1987, pp. 11-26.

[Sherno examines the individual design of Fuertes ' poetry, in which the key element of solitude, grounded in individual, personal experiences, is presented for the reader to perceive and participate in with the author.]

From the outset of her literary career, Gloria Fuertes has distinguished herself as a poet resistant to categorization.1 Born in 1918, Fuertes is approximately contemporaneous with Gabriel Celaya, José Hierro, Blas de Otero, and José Luis Hidalgo, poets who rose...

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Margaret Persin (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "Humor as Semiosis in the Poetry of Gloria Fuertes," in Revista Hispanica Moderna, Vol. XLI, No. 2, December, 1988, pp. 143-57.

[Persin discusses Fuertes' manipulation of humor—linguistic and semiotic—to expand her readers' awareness of the various levels of meaning in her work.]

Gloria Fuertes forms part of a group of poets who became active in Spain in the 1950s and 1960s.1 Similar to that of Dámaso Alonso, with its iconoclastic tone, her poetry generally is devoid of traditional poetic diction and tropes; her texts are written in the everyday language of ordinary existence, with its disposition toward slang, ellipsis, and most importantly,...

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Sylvia Sherno (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "Carnival: Death and Renewal in the Poetry of Gloria Fuertes," in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 104, No. 2, March, 1989, pp. 370-92.

[Sherno examines the celebratory nature of Fuertes' verse.]

The word "carnival," as used by Mikhail Bakhtin, refers to the culture of the marketplace and the forms of folk humor which arose in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The manifestations of this popular culture included comic festivities and ritual activities, memorialized in the oral and written parodies from which an entire body of recreational literature was born. Among the most salient traits of carnivalesque compositions are licentiousness, irreverence, and an...

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Silvia R. Sherno (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "Gloria Fuertes' Room of Her Own," in Letras Femeninas, Vol. XVI, Nos. 1-2, 1990, pp. 85-99.

[Sherno examines the roles of both nature and civilization in defining Fuertes' personal space.]

If the somber hues of the Castillian countryside have been most memorably painted by Antonio Machado; if the brilliant colors of Andalucia have been captured by any number of poets, including Lorca and Alberti; then the favored landscape of Gloria Fuertes is undoubtedly the city of Madrid. The colloquial character and the insouciant tones of Fuertes' language lovingly duplicate the flavorful rhythms and patterns overheard in any street corner conversation in Madrid. Busses,...

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C. Brian Morris (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Strategies of Self-Effacement in Three Poems by Gloria Fuertes," in Mester, Vol. XX, No. 2, Fall, 1991, pp. 67-76.

[Morris uses three of Fuertes' poems as examples of the author's use of self-deprecation as a strategy to emphasize the strength and power of women.]

Although poems about poetry are not peculiar to the twentieth century, its poets have brought to the theme an anxiety and an insecurity exemplified by T. S. Eliot's mordant yet eloquent definition of language in Four Quartets as "shabby equipment always deteriorating / In the general mess of imprecision of feeling" (128). "Shall I say … ?" asked Eliot through the persona of J. Alfred...

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Further Reading

Agosin, M. A review of Off the Map. Choice, Vol. 22, No. 3 (November 1984): 30.

Short description of contents.

Cain, Joan. A review of Obras completas. World Literature Today, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Summer 1977): 18.

Brief description of the style and themes of the poems.

Carmell, Pamela. "Gloria Fuertes: An Interview by Pamela Carmell." American Poetry Review, Vol. 20, No. 2 (March/April 1991):5-6.

Fuertes discusses poetry, hers and other Spanish writers.

De Aguilar, Helene J.F....

(The entire section is 145 words.)